The story of Abiodun Adegoke was first published by Chief Segun Odegbami in his column in Saturday Vanguard (read it HERE). Abiodun is a budding basketball star whose reputation has gone ahead of his career. Abiodun Adegoke, currently a teenage student at the MPAC Basketball Academy in Dubai hails from Ibadan. Our Deputy Sports Editor, Jacob Ajom, visited the family at Eleyele area where he met the mother, brother and two sisters.
Unfortunately, his father, Adegoke Waheed, a retired soldier of the Nigerian Army died last year. Below is an excerpt from the interview with Abiodun’s mother, Mrs Jennet Adegoke and his brother, Matthew Adegoke.
How was Abiodun, while growing up?
Matthew: Abiodun as a child, was special. When you see your junior brother (4th behind me) growing above you, to the point that, when he was in school, his schoolmates would be calling him Baba and you know what that means; Baba means father – like you are an old man.
And that made him become shy. When it was time to go to school the following day, Abiodun would refuse to go to school because he felt he was being mocked. I would volunteer to go with him, with a cane in my hand I would stand there with the assurance that I would deal with anybody who dared to call him Baba.
He was so tall that if he offended me, I would jump before I could slap him. It got to a point that if he wanted to go out, he would bend his back to come down to the level of his friends.
As a kid, he hardly went out. He was always indoors, very gentle and talked little. If you bought a phone for him, Abiodun would open it and couple it back exactly as it was. I thought he would become an engineer because anything about electronics, Abiodun can fix it; even if he was seeing it for the first time.
As for my mother, when the lad was growing up, she was just wondering, ‘what kind of child is this? What was he growing to become? He was growing taller and taller by the day. If there is a fight between Abiodun and me, one could hardly notice the difference.
As a child, how was he relating with friends?
Abiodun did not keep many friends as he was always indoors, pressing the phone and doing normal things. He would stay at home chatting with daddy. If he did not go to school, he was always indoors. When he is inside the house he was always mindful of the ceiling fan, which we didn’t always put on because of his height.
How did he start his basketball?
About his surge in basketball, there is not much I can say. I was not living here with them, so whatever I tell you now may not be accurate.
It was the turn of Abiodun’s mother to speak
Mrs Adegoke Jennet joked that the interview had to be conducted in Yoruba because she was not good at expressing herself in English. But when she eventually admitted that she could speak in pidgin English, I was relieved.
After giving birth to Abiodun and he began to grow the way he was, what was on your mind about the boy’s height?
I hardly could understand the type of child he would grow up to become. When I was giving birth to him, he arrived in a wonderful way because I didn’t feel any pain during labour, like I did before I gave birth to his siblings.
I didn’t go to the hospital. I was delivered of him right here inside my room without much pain. His size was not like any other baby I had before as he was a bit fatter and taller. When he started growing, I noticed something that surprised me.
Abiodun came to this world like they born Jesus. Jesus was not born in a good place and that was also how Abiodun came to my life. His height was phenomenal for a boy of his age.
One day, he was three years old then, I took him to the hospital. When the nurses asked about his age and I told them, they doubted me. I had to show them his birth certificate.
They all wondered, asking me where I got the boy from. I know I am tall a bit, but not to be compared to Abiodun’s height. I know my father was tall and my husband’s father was very tall too, but my son’s height is incomparable.
As he continued to grow, in Primary 6, his height was uncommon. He became so tall that his father would be asking the boy, ‘you want to resemble my father?’ If Abiodun is in the house, we couldn’t put on the ceiling fan because we were always afraid it would harm him.
When he entered Eleyele Secondary School, JS1, one day he came back home and said, ‘mummy, something happened in our school today.’ I asked him what it was. He said, ‘my classmates were calling me Baba, Baba. What is the meaning of Baba?’
I told him it was because of his height that they were calling him Baba. I assured him not to worry, that he was God’s gift and there was nothing anybody could do about it.
One of their masters at school, Mr Adeogun loved him so much. Any time I went to the school, he would be calling me, ‘mummy baba’ and would welcome me very well.
He loved Biodun because he was a quiet boy who never caused any trouble and didn’t make any friends. While at home, my son was always indoors.
When I come back from the market, I will find out that the rest of the boys in the neighbourhood were out to watch football, only Abiodun would be home. When I asked why he was not out to watch football with others, his answer was funny.
He said, ‘mom, I will not go out because when anything happens, I can easily be detected. They would say, see that tall boy, he was at the scene, nowhere I can hide. So let me be.’
When he got to SS2, he told me he wanted to learn how to repair generator. When he started as an apprentice in the repair of generator, one day, he ran into one basketball coach from the University of Ibadan.
The man asked him what he was doing. He advised Abiodun to join him in training as a basketball player. When he returned home, he told me he wanted to start playing basketball. I asked him, which one be basketball again?
He explained to me how he met a coach from UI and pleaded with me that I should let him go. I said if it was his desire to play basketball, I would not stop him. I sent him and his brother to the market to buy basketball shoes for him, they couldn’t find his size.
I met a cobbler to make special shoes for him. That was how he started going for training at UI. While going for training, the coach gave him a pair of shoes.
One day, one of my Christian brothers, Mr Oyedeji met Abiodun on the road and asked what job he was doing. Abiodun told him he was an apprentice, learning how to repair generating sets.
Why didn’t you tell him you were into basketball? Oyedeji told him repairing generating set was no job for him. He told Abiodun that basketball was his natural calling.
He said the man volunteered to link him up with somebody who would help him. The man accompanied my son to my shop to interview me.
When he came, he asked me why I allowed Abiodun to go and learn generator repair and not basketball. I told him Abiodun was also playing basketball at UI.
He said, he knew where Abiodun would combine basketball and education. He then phoned Segun Odegbami and told him about Abiodun.
After that phone call, Odegbami sent three people(a tv crew) to our place. When they came to my shop, they interviewed me and Biodun. They asked Abiodun, when he becomes a star, what would he say to those people making jest of him?
My son said, ‘I would tell them that God has done it for me.’
During the interview, I wept, because I didn’t know what to say in answer to their questions. I was totally overwhelmed as they brought an admission letter and some forms to fill. I only spoke with Odegbami on phone, I hadn’t met him in person then. He paid our fare, Mr Oyedeji, me with Abiodun to Ogun state and back and did not take one kobo from us.
When we got to Wasimi in Ogun state, they welcomed us, took us to the canteen, gave us food and everyone was happy. After completing the admission formalities and Mr Oyedeji and I were about to leave, Abiodun began to cry.
I couldn’t hold back my own tears either, I began to cry also. He was still about 14 years plus by then.
When we were crying, Odegbami came in and said to Abiodun, “Are you not ashamed to be crying when your mother is leaving? Look around, you can see younger children around, playing happily. Are their parents here?”
He asked me to leave as well. I then told Abiodun, ‘don’t worry, I will come back for you, OK. We then left, while he stayed back with Odegbami. We did not pay a dime.
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When it got to registering for WAEC, Abiodun came home and told us that he had been sent home for the WAEC fee. The school sent a message that we should send Biodun’s WAEC registration fee. My mind skipped a bit because it was a problem bigger than we could handle.
Neither me nor my husband had the money they were asking for. One week after the school resumed, Abiodun was hesitant going back to school. Mr Oyedeji visited us and was asking, what was happening.
He volunteered to pay Biodun’s way back to Wasimi if transportation was the problem. He came to our home and dropped N5,000 with my daughter, Biodun’s elder sister as transport fare for Biodun. I told Oyedeji, the problem was beyond transport.
(Matthew interjects) Let me come in there. That was why we registered him as an external candidate at Akufo Grammar School. He finished his WAEC before travelling.
Abiodun was home, always browsing the net. One day he told me he met one Mr Lookman on the internet and that the man liked him so much.
Lookman is the CEO of one basketball academy in Dubai. When Biodun made a video chat with the man, he confirmed his admiration for Abiodun and said he was running an academy in Dubai but he had his coaches in Lagos. He said we should go to Lagos and he sent transport money.
Father was skeptical. He advised we should not go because, if they took us away, he wouldn’t know who to meet to fetch us. The coach sent transport money to my account. We went to Lagos.
While at the man’s office, my curiosity gradually turned to confidence when I noticed the MPAC Sports posters everywhere. The man in Dubai put a video call through and we chatted with him and we were all happy.
From that moment, they started processing Biodun’s passport so as to take him to Dubai. First, he stopped over in South Sudan, where he spent one year. After one year of stay in South Sudan, he returned to Nigeria but stayed in Lagos, where I, the father and one of his sisters went to see him, before going to Dubai.
Mr Lookman has been wonderful, as he has been taking good care of Abiodun and the entire family, including me and Daddy before he died. He has become like a family member as I regard him as my blood brother now.